When the space shuttle Discovery takes off today for the International Space Station, it will be carrying two Latinos: Jose Hernandez and Danny Olivas. But it is Hernandez's inspirational life story that has people talking.
When he was younger, Hernandez used to pick tomatoes and cucumbers side-by-side with his Mexican parents, who found employment in California as migrant farm workers in order to make ends meet for him and his siblings. It was a thankless, difficult job, and his parents—who were only able to complete the third grade themselves—made sure to emphasize the importance of education. It was a lesson Hernandez took to heart.
Although he says his parents would have been happy to see him graduate from high school, Hernandez decided to reach higher after he heard about about pioneering Latino astronaut Franklin Chang-Diaz. "He knocked down the wall," Hernandez said. "He came from Costa Rica, from
very humble beginnings, he struggled with the English language—and
despite all that, he was able to become an astronaut. And that is what I told myself: 'If Franklin can do it, why can't I?'"
Earning his bachelor and master's degrees in electrical engineering, Hernandez eventually became an engineer at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, where he was selected as an astronaut in 2004 after applying multiple times.
Hernandez hopes his 13-day space mission will motivate young Latinos. "If they think that, because they are in a financial situation, college is not in the works, that is not true," he told ABC News. "Where there is a will, there is a way. And I will trade my story with theirs and hopefully they will say, 'Well, Jose did it, and I can do it.'"
You can follow Jose Hernandez's first space mission on his Twitter account: twitter.com/astro_jose. The NASA astronaut will be the first in the agency's history to Tweet bilingually about his experiences.